Monday, January 11, 2010
11 - Law School Study Tools
LAW SCHOOL STUDY TOOLS
One thing that students hate to do, and often refuse to do, is something that I hear about from students after the first year and even at graduation and later. This subject is the preparation and use of certain study tools. At my law school, we talk about three of them: flowcharts, flashcards and floutlines. Okay, so floutlines is not a real word, but I was looking for everything starting with “fl.” Which one(s) you use may depend on what type of learner you are. Some of you may be visual (spatial) learners. Some may be auditory and some may be kinesthetic. There is probably other terminology and even different types of learners, but the point is, people learn differently. So long as the outcome is achieved, it probably doesn’t make a lot of difference as far as law school is concerned. You might want to do a little research on different learning styles.
Flowcharts. I have known some students who have enjoyed working with flowcharts and who have stated that they have been helpful. Basically, a flowchart looks like an organizational chart, but it uses legal terms rather than titles of someone in the organization. I use the flowchart style when I present a course review session at the end of the term. For many students, it helps to pull the course together – to allow the student to see the “flow” of a course. Personally, I set it up as an upside down tree, if you will. For example, I make sure that the student understands the different categories of torts; intentional torts, negligence and quasi intentional torts, etc. (I should note, however, that I usually break intentional torts down by type of injury – to person, property, etc.). Then we start with a sheet for intentional torts. One could merely note all of the intentional torts across the top of the page. From there, under Assault, for instance, draw line down to connect to all of the elements of assault and from there draw a line down from each element to disclose other important aspects of that particular element. The beauty of this method is that you can paste sheets of paper together to eventually arrive at a finished product. As you can see, that can get pretty cumbersome, but it can be an effective tool for the visual learner. In fact, some of my students and some study groups have large bulletin boards or chalk board on walls in their learning centers so they can see how a course flows.
Flashcards. Some students believe that flashcards are the easiest. I’m not sure about that, but I like using flashcards. I use 3x5 index cards and, on the front, I will write, for instance, “Intentional Torts.” Then on the back, I will list all of the intentional torts. Then I will carry these index cards around, wherever I go – and I mean everywhere! As I flip through a set of cards, when I know what is on the reverse of a card, without hesitation or pause, then I put it in a “remembered” stack. If I can’t remember it, or have to think about it, I just put it at the end of the stack and continue on until I know them all without hesitation or pause. I do this over and over and over. It never ends until the course is over. Once I can move completely through an entire set of cards, I can work on a new and different set, but I always continue to go back to the learned cards for review. You might also create a set of cards for a spouse, children and friends that they can spring on you at any time. Students who have taken this to heart tell me that their children love to play “Stump the Parent.” One student of mine distributed cards out to all of his employees and told them that they could do a certain number of tests each day and, upon achieving a certain number of misses, the boss would have to do one of the employee’s assigned tasks for a week. One student gave cards to her fiancé who, as she tells the story, was always accusing her of “Always being right.” “Here is your chance,” she told him, “to prove to me that I am sometimes wrong!” If you “play your cards” right, you could have people calling you day and night or kids jumping out of bed in the morning trying to catch you at your most vulnerable moment.
Outlines. Outlines are not only an essential learning tool, they will help you to not miss issues and sub-issues on essay exams. Yes, they take a lot of time, but if you are a judicious student, you can build them over time, as the course progresses. In my classes, I take time at the beginning and at the end of each class to go over outlines and help students put them in place. The easiest way to build an outline is to grab your book and look at the table of contents. Most law books have a general table of contents and then a more detailed table of contents. Later, I’ll talk about the ten minute, memorized outline that is (almost) guaranteed to increase your score on a law, essay exam.
Remember, you can’t make it in law school (well, most of us can’t) merely by looking at or reading the material. You will have to burn the material and it’s functionality, into your brain. You must create a method of study that works for you.
One more thing, before I go. Students ask quite often, “What about the commercially prepared study aids?” I do not recommend any for my students and neither does my law school. There are at least four reasons, why not. The first is that the cost can add up. The second is that the student can become so engrossed in them and buy so many, that there will be little time left for the dusty old law books. The third is, even students who purchase and study from these aids sometimes flunk out of law school. The fourth is most people learn better by doing it themselves. So, if you want to buy them, don’t buy them all! If you buy them, they are just a tool. They are not a substitute or a “zero sum game” for academic, legal learning.
Next time, I’ll talk to you about one of the most important things I have learned since I began teaching in law school about being a successful law student – and these all begin with “R!” Actually, it is the same word: REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW.
Professor Doug Holden
© 2010 Douglas S. Holden. All rights reserved.